This was a great story...if only I didn't have to wait until getting to 80% of the way in to figure out where this story was going!
So here's the thinThis was a great story...if only I didn't have to wait until getting to 80% of the way in to figure out where this story was going!
So here's the thing. I didn't hate the book. I actually liked it, especially the last 20% of the story. That part had my attention. That part was really good and hit all the right spots. But why did I have to slog through 80% (470+ pages) to get to the good stuff? And here's the thing: I don't mind a lot of set-up; I don't mind a ton of exposition. I don't mind if the author takes their time to really create their world and set the characters just so. In the right hands, this could've been a well-crafted, intelligent, poignant 4-star read. But it wasn't. It wasn't set-up properly. I think I'm being generous giving it 2-stars, since I was constantly barraged with inanities (toilet paper shortages in 2055 being one of them along with a variety of one-dimensional characters in both the 1320s and the future).
It was such a great concept: we now have the technology to time travel. We understand the physics behind it. Let's send a historian back to the 1300s! But oops, something goes wrong (we don't know what) and the historian is stuck in the middle of the plague. And back in the future, they're trying to get her back.
As a concept, it would've worked as either a character study or a sci/fi story. And on both levels, to a certain degree, it did. During the last 20% of the book. Which is much too late. There was so much else (ummm...80% worth) that made it tedious and...unreadable...that I was tempted at least half a dozen times to put it down and say "I give up." (Anyone who's read my reviews in the past will know that no, I don't do that sort of thing, much to the detriment of my own mental health...I will stick with it to the bitter end, especially if I've paid for the book.)
So what didn't I like about it?
Well, to start off with, why would anyone write a time travel story and then create a world where the most technologically advanced thing that's been invented (other than time travel, of course) is a video phone. A video phone that doesn't record messages (where, oh where, has voicemail gone? There were answering machines in the 90s!). There are no cell phones. There are no personal computers. The concept of e-mail is non-existent. So is internet research. Oh, and everything was on paper! People wrote things left and right, on paper!
Many things we take for granted these days seem to be unavailable in 2055. Which is bizarre. I grew up in the 80s. I was in college in the 90s. I had a computer in my teens; I saw my first cell phone in 1992. I was e-mailing in the late 80s. Surely it isn't a huge stretch of the imagination to extrapolate the tech that was available and say "65 years later, this is what we would have."
Well that was point one. Point two is sort of related. Say you're writing a novel in the 1990s about the future (e.g., 2055), why would England--Oxford, to be specific--in 2055 be very much like 1960s England? Either a) the author wasn't very technologically savvy about the tech available in the 1990s, b) the author wasn't very speculative about the tech that would be possible/available 60+ years in the future, or c) the author just lacked the requisite amount of imagination required to write sci/fi.
(c) doesn't suit me as the answer since Connie Willis is a six-time Nebula award winner. She's also won the Hugo awards. Two of the biggest sci/fi awards out there. So it has to be (a) or (b). Oh, and I thought it absolutely laughable that Oxford in 2055 was so puritanical that having a boy, in college, kissing a girl in the hallway, was enough to send the adults into apoplexy! Kissing! In 1320, sure. But 2055? In college? Just didn't make sense.
And point three. (view spoiler)[This is what was in 80% of the story: Character complaints in 2055: a) There's something wrong, Badri says before he falls sick. (5% of the story) b) We're going to have a toilet paper problem. c) They've quarantined Oxford! There's a flu virus! You must shut down the time travel device! d) What do you mean, Badri's got the flu? He said "There's something wrong!" Someone figure out what went wrong! (10% of the story) e) Where will I put these bell ringers? Oh, and we're running low on toilet paper. f) Ugh, why are they playing so much Christmas music? (Um, could it be because it's Christmas time?) g) Didn't anyone hear that Badri said there was something wrong?! I know he's in a coma, but wake him up! (20% of the story) h) The bell ringers won't shut up! They're going to sue Oxford! They need ring bells elsewhere! i) Have you heard we're running low on toilet paper?! j) The phones are on the fritz. I can't see who I'm talking to. Oh no! However will I know what's happening? (25% of the story) k) OMG, we're running low on eggs and bacon! But don't worry, we have tons of brussel sprouts! l) There's a plague! It's the flu! No, it's virus! It's the viral plague flu! Oh, no, no one's had a cold in decades! Ack! Achoo! m) Badri, I know you've just woken up and you're sick and delusional, but what went wrong? Tell me! What went wrong?!? (30% of the story) n) Brussel sprouts?! Really? That's all we've got? And biscuits? o) Oh dear, we're running low on butter! What are we to do?!?!? (40% of the story) p) Kissing?!? Off to your room with you young man! q) I don't know what to do. The bell ringers want a room to practice in, and I have to ration the toilet paper! (50% of the story) r) Excuse me, I know you're sick, but have you been around any ducks or geese lately? No? How about within the last 8 days? Yes, I know there's a flu virus epidemic. Yes, I know we're running low on toilet paper. s) The phones are down!! I can't even get a dial tone! Now I can't see or talk to people! (People today say "What's a dial tone???) t) Oh no, one of the bell ringers has collapsed during practice! The horror! We can't continue this song! What are we to do?!? u) Brussel sprouts. That's all we have, is brussel sprouts. BRUSSEL SPROUTS!!! v) I managed to save some squares of toilet paper... (60% of the story) w) We MUST get to the net! We can't close the time machine down! x) What do you mean, we've been digging up graves from the 1300s? (70% of the story) y) Wait, viruses can last a looooooooooooooooooooong time. In the grave. Oh, and btw, we're out of toilet paper. z) Why won't the crazy old lady stop reading me Bible verses about pestilence and plague? How is this helping me, when I'm sick with the flu? aa) We're out of toilet paper!!! Aaaagggghhhh!!! ab) Aaaagggghhhh, brussel sprouts! Again! On Christmas!! And New Years. And during the Slaughter of the Innocents! Noooooo!!
Character complaints in the 1300s: a) That priest is an idiot. He doesn't know what he's doing. b) That guy has a pock-marked face. He must be a cutthroat! (Ho, cutthroat island!) c) You are an idiot! The plague is your fault! d) Oof! Get away from me, cow. I can't milk you. e) Stupid rat. I can't let you go free. You will infect everyone with your fleas. f) Stop staring at me, rat. You're much too intelligent looking! g) Oh, the horror! The priest forgot the words in Mass! h) Oh no! What a scary looking man! He must be the cutthroat! i) The priest is an idiot. He put the candles in the wrong place! j) Wait, the priest is the scary, scarred man? k) Get away from me, cow. I said I can't milk you right now! Don't you see people are falling ill all around us?! l) Wait, I'm confused. The scary scarred man is a cutthroat? m) Why is the maid always sleeping or running away? Well, that's it! The plague is her fault! n) I'm very confused. The priest sounded so kind while I was delirious and trying to recover from a virus. How can he be a cutthroat? o) I've been mistaken. The priest is very kind. He's just got a scarred scary face. p) Whine, whine, whine...whine, whine, whine. q) Moooooooooo...someone milk me. Please. My udders are sooooo full! r) Ugh, stupid cow! Get away from me! There's plague all around! I need to take care of all these dying people! *sob* *sob* s) Now I've got all the kids calling the priest a cutthroat. t) The priest is so sweet. I think I'm kinda falling for him. Even though he does look like a cutthroat... u) The priest is an idiot! He pinched the candle flames. The plague has to be his fault! v) Dang it cow! Get. Out. Of. My. Way! I can't milk you right now!! w) Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! x) And it goes on and on, in much of the same vein... (hide spoiler)]
What I did like: the Middle English. It brought tears to my eyes. (This is good.)
Ummm...what else did I like?
The donkey. The cow. Blackie the puppy. The intelligent, innocent rat. Colin.
I am convinced that Colin is the hero of the story, despite what the author would have me believe.
So...reading this has been an experience. I can definitely say that this story was an interesting ride, one I am likely never to go on again. And sorry, Connie Willis, but I will not be reading the other four books in the series. I think I've had my fill. I don't think I can handle being on pins and needles, waiting and worrying over whether there will be another tp shortage in the 2060s. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more